October 30, 2011 — Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes some very strong accusations against the Scribes and Pharisees (religious leaders in His day). He says to the disciples, “Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”
The power of that accusation is emphasized when we think of St. Francis of Assisi’s commission to “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” In other words, the way we live our lives ought to be a witness to the Gospel. Preaching should be secondary. And we are all familiar with the popular saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Essentially, Jesus’ is calling the Scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, a charge particularly poignant given that they were religious leaders. He continues his discourse with more accusations, saying, “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and tie them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are preformed to be seen. … They love places of honor at banquets…” and so on.
Christ does not call the actions of the Scribes and Pharisees into question in order to speak ill of others. Rather, He highlights some well-known controversy of the day and uses it to teach a lesson – “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
We were not made for this world, nor for the honor and glory we receive here. We were made for the Lord, and our lives must give glory to Him. After all, everything we have comes to us by way of gift from the Lord. So, we are not worthy to be praised for it. It doesn’t make sense, from a stewardship perspective, for us to receive praise when we do something good, not praise on our own merit anyway. All the acclaim we receive when we do something nice for another person or when we excel using one of our God-given talents should hearken back to the Lord, giving Him recognition and praise for the gifts He has given us. Then, we will receive recognition, not from men but from the Lord Himself, for our humble service, and we will enjoy the truest reward –fellowship and union with Him.
In the second reading, St. Paul echoes these sentiments in his letter to the Thessalonians. Paul and his companions are in Thessalonica doing the Lord’s work – proclaiming the Gospel, and, for the ability to do so, Paul says, “We give thanks to God unceasingly.” They are there to serve the Lord, to show the people the truth of the Gospel and to rejoice with them as they convert to Christ. All glory and praise goes to God – as it should.
For our part, we ought to follow the example of Paul and his companions, guarding against the want for recognition when we do good deeds. We ought to live our lives in such a way that they proclaim the Gospel and tell of the truth and goodness of the Lord. He has given us many good gifts, and as Christian disciples it is our responsibility to use them to glorify the Lord.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t thank people when they recognize that we sing well or that we lector well or preach well. There’s nothing wrong with being appreciated for our talents. But the bottom line is, we have to stay humble. As Christian disciples and stewards of God’s many gifts, we must always remember that all good things come from Him, and we must live our lives in humble service in gratitude for all He has given us.